GREEN BAY, Wis. — A former U.S. Army officer, Don Osterberg, VP of safety and training at Schneider National, compares the task of retaining truck drivers to a saying used in the Armed Forces: “We recruit soldiers in the military, but we retain families.”
It’s his response to a question on how the company’s elaborate sleep-apnea testing program affects recruitment and retention rates.
Sure, a handful of drivers are embarrassed to admit they may have a disorder, but overall the majority are thankful Schneider took notice of problems many couldn’t even explain. So are their families. Just ask any spouse or partner who has to lay next to someone with irritatingly audible sleep apnea.
For the carrier, it wasn’t all about benevolence, though. The program significantly cuts down on safety and health-related costs (a more in-depth look at sleep apnea and can be read in the current weekly feature, Sleeping with the Enemy).
The first phase of the award-winning program, screening, involves a patented questionnaire developed and administered by Precision Pulmonary Diagnostics.
It targets info related to drivers’ health and wellness, BMI, and overall lifestyle. That data is put through algorithms and determines the likelihood of OSA. If the risk is high enough, drivers undergo overnight evaluation at a sleep clinic to confirm a diagnosis.
Treatment options vary depending on the severity. Many times it can be as simple as dieting and exercise. But serious cases usually involve the use of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device and even surgery, although success on the latter approach is hit and miss.
Schneider’s existing program was borne out of two pilot studies, each of which revealed significant ROI for screening and treatment. The first tracked 339 OSA-diagnosed drivers 12 months before treatment and 12 months after.
The conclusion: Preventable crashes were reduced by 30 percent; median cost of crashes (how the carrier monitors high-severity crashes) dropped by 48 percent; retention improved by 60 percent; and healthcare savings averaged $539 per driver.
The study was expanded in 2006, involving 788 drivers, and the results were similar. This time, though, there was only a 12-percent reduction in accident frequency—”still good,” says Osterberg—but the median cost of crashes rate dropped by a staggering 63 percent. “I was very excited to see the reductions from the severity perspective,” he says.
Once the company decided to turn the program into policy, the next step was to remove barriers for drivers to be tested, such as the cost to drivers for evaluation and treatment; and reassuring there would be no dismissals or loss of earnings due to time off the road.
Even now, though, the program isn’t without its challenges. For one thing, there isn’t a DC-powered CPAP machine on the market right now that will run off a standard truck battery for the eight to 10 hours required for full restorative sleep. That means you’ll need an AC inverter; and with all the anti-idling laws in North America, probably an APU system too.
“It’s not perfect,” says Osterberg. “But to people who say ‘it’s not worth doing it until it’s perfect,’ that’s not a reasonable expectation considering the risks. And [OSA] testing is only part of a larger fatigue management system.”
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